Upholding Democracy, Ballot by Ballot
November 04, 2012, 5:00am

New York Times.

This year, voting is more than just the core responsibility of citizenship; it is an act of defiance against malicious political forces determined to reduce access to democracy. Millions of ballots on Tuesday — along with those already turned in — will be cast despite the best efforts of Republican officials around the country to prevent them from playing a role in the 2012 election.

Even now, many Republicans are assembling teams to intimidate voters at polling places, to demand photo ID where none is required, and to cast doubt on voting machines or counting systems whose results do not go their way. The good news is that the assault on voting will not affect the election nearly as much as some had hoped. Courts have either rejected or postponed many of the worst laws. Predictions that up to five million people might be disenfranchised turned out to be unfounded.

But a great deal of damage has already been done, and the clearest example is that on Sunday in Florida, people will not be allowed to vote early. Four years ago, on the Sunday before Election Day, tens of thousands of Floridians cast their ballots, many of them black churchgoers who traveled directly from services to their polling places. Because most of them voted for Barack Obama, helping him win the state, Republicans eliminated early voting on that day. No legitimate reason was given; the action was entirely partisan in nature.

The author of that law, as The Palm Beach Post revealed last week, was Emmett Mitchell IV, the general counsel for the state Republican Party. Under his guidance, party officials in Florida got thousands of perfectly eligible black voters purged from the rolls in 2000, and got a law passed last year that limited registration drives and early voting days. A federal judge struck down the registration limits, but not before they drove down the numbers of new registrants.

The law cutting back nearly half the number of early-voting days in Florida remains in place, a reaction to the Obama campaign’s successful use of the system. Early voting is wildly popular, freeing people from having to cast a ballot within a few hours on a workday, and all but 15 states allow it in some form. (When will New York get the message?) But even after long lines formed last week at early-voting stations in Florida, Gov. Rick Scott refused to extend the period an extra day. In Ohio, a judge had to restore early-voting days that Republicans had tried to cut.

One of the biggest attempts to reduce the turnout of minority voters, poor people and others likely to vote Democratic has been the imposition of photo ID requirements, under the guise of preventing nonexistent voter fraud. In Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin, courts have blocked these laws or postponed them until after the election, but the issue is by no means dead, and Republicans can be expected to continue to press their self-serving case.

In Iowa and Wisconsin, the Romney campaign has given its poll watchers misleading or incorrect information — for instance, that voters should show an ID in Iowa, where none is required — which could create disputes and long lines, most likely in Democratic precincts.

One of the saddest signs of the politicization of the voting process and the counting of ballots has been the armies of lawyers assembled by both parties in the swing states where the vote is likely to be the closest. Much of this would be unnecessary if not for the requirements that Republicans have tried to put in place, which force Democrats to make sure that provisional ballots are not thrown out or mishandled. (In Nevada, Republicans are already preparing their challenge by claiming, with absolutely no evidence, that some machines are malfunctioning in Mr. Obama’s favor.)

Public outcry, with support from the courts, may eventually remove these threats to democracy. For now, those who contribute to a heavy turnout on Tuesday will send a message that Americans reject any underhanded effort to place political gain above a franchise for which people have given their lives.